The following is a transcript of a panel discussion of activists in Israel/Palestine about the war in Gaza organized by Charles Lenchner for ACT.TV and recorded live on YouTube on October 24th. The speakers are Sally Abed, a Palestinian peace activist and leader of Standing Together, the largest Jewish-Arab grassroots movement in Israel, based in Haifa; Uri Weltmann, a founding member of and national field organizer for Standing Together, based in Tel Aviv; Kefah Abukhdeir, a Palestinian American educator and activist, based in East Jerusalem and Atlanta; and Yael Berda, a sociologist at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and former human rights lawyer involved with A Land for All, an initiative aimed at brokering a peaceful solution to the conflict through a confederation of Israel and Palestine. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Charles Lenchner (moderator): Thank you, everyone, for coming. I want to make a few things clear about how this event came together. Some of us—members of various organizations—saw the tragedy unfolding on October 7th, with the attack from Gaza, and we immediately realized what this would mean for the people of Gaza, for the people of Israel, for everyone who cares about them around the world, and we wanted to find a way to lift up voices that we thought symbolized hope and progress, the ability to get out of this very dark passage.
Sally, you are obviously a Palestinian Israeli or an Israeli Palestinian. And at a time when the conflict between the Jews of Israel and the Palestinian people, wherever they may be, is at a peak and there’s so much destruction and death happening right now, can you say something about how you see yourself being active in this moment?
Sally Abed: It’s very hard for me these days to be called Israeli anything. In general, it’s very hard for me. I usually identify as a Palestinian citizen of Israel. Unfortunately, the political ethos of Israel definitely doesn’t see me as part of it, in general, and especially now. I do identify as a Palestinian citizen of Israel, and I see a very, very great responsibility in this position, as part of the 17 percent of the citizens of Israel who are Palestinian; and you have those in East Jerusalem, who are not citizens but are residents.
I don’t have the privilege of being righteous all the time. As a Palestinian, as a social justice activist as well, I see my work as centered on the question: How can I build? How can I look at the people who are currently not convinced, the people who currently don’t have the political will to even acknowledge the fact that I’m Palestinian and acknowledge my history and narrative, and actually bring them to our side? It’s a very different kind of work than that of any kind of Palestinian abroad or even in the occupied territories, in Gaza. I feel a special responsibility, because I have a privilege of experiencing a semi-democracy of some sort. And I have some tools that I can use to increase our political capital within Israel, among the Israeli public, and shift that paradigm from what we have right now to what we need.
Right now, in these very, very polarized moments, that means staying put, here in the middle, even while my people are being slaughtered very, very brutally. We are being silenced here in Israel. We’re being persecuted and we’re being arrested and fired from our jobs and expelled from universities—not even for talking about the occupation, or the apartheid, or the brutal attacks on Gaza. The mere expression of solidarity with people and with children is being criminalized at this moment. So we are having to navigate that, on top of the fact that we are living in mixed cities. I live here in Haifa, as I said, and at this very moment there are organized civil groups that are being heavily armed by our national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is an openly Kahanist Jewish supremacist. It’s extremely hard to navigate the persecutions we are enduring right now in Israeli society while also not being able to express our collective trauma as Palestinians. I have some very close friends—Jewish friends and neighbors and colleagues—who have been deeply impacted by the October 7th attack. So it’s probably one of the most complex experiences to have, but in many ways, it’s critical to maintain this space and stay put, because we are the only ones—the Jews and Palestinians within Israel—who are trying to hold this experience in its reality.
Charles Lenchner: Can you give us an insight into the kinds of conversations or heated debates happening inside the Palestinian Israeli community?
Sally Abed: I think one of the hardest realizations I have had to accept during these times is that personally, and even collectively as a movement right now, we don’t have control. There’s no immediate impact that is efficient enough to change policies, international policies, and, you know, America’s unconditional support of the Israeli state and the Israeli government right now. Having had that realization, what I do have control over is just de-escalating my environment—my city, and our schools, our shared workplaces. That’s what, at the moment, has to be completely depoliticized. Also because you literally cannot speak about politics right now. As I said before, legally, you can’t—we are being persecuted but also among the people here in Israel, unfortunately, there is a very, very broad consensus about what is happening and the very, very extreme retaliation on Gaza. And honestly, for the very first time, I’m also feeling very uncomfortable even identifying as Palestinian among people who I thought could contain that. So I think there’s a shift, there’s an alignment to the very, very extreme right even for most of what is considered the liberal camp—you know, the hundreds of thousands of people that have been fighting for democracy.
Charles Lenchner: Uri, I’m interested in the work that Standing Together has been doing since the war began. Can you summarize for us what’s going on on the ground?
Uri Weltmann: Since the escalation began, this recent round of bloodletting on October 7th, Standing Together has been setting up local groups throughout the country called the Jewish Arab Solidarity Network. We’ve been reaching out as a way to prepare in advance for the fact that the political leadership, the Israeli government, is pushing toward a clash between Jewish and Palestinian citizens inside Israel. Itamar Ben-Gvir, the most extremist, hawkish, nationalist minister ever to preside in Israeli government, is openly talking about preparing for a scenario similar to May 2021. He has handed out guns and motivated people to form local militias in so-called shared cities or mixed cities like Yaffa and Haifa and Lod, and this is a very dangerous development.
So rather than sitting on the sidelines and looking at the right wing taking the initiative and pushing things in this dangerous direction, we in Standing Together, along with other partners, have been working on the ground, especially in the mixed cities but also in Jewish towns inside the sovereign state of Israel—not the occupied Palestinian territories like the West Bank or East Jerusalem or Gaza Strip, but the sovereign state of Israel—to set up solidarity networks, to bring together Jewish and Arab neighbors living in different neighborhoods of the same city or living in adjacent towns to do solidarity work, to do mutual-aid work to promote equality and anti-racism in the public sphere.
I’ll give you an example. One of our local groups near the town of Hadera went out and changed racist graffiti—graffiti that previously said “death to Arabs” was changed into a bilingual message of solidarity in Hebrew and Arabic. We did the same in Haifa, and elsewhere. We do postering, we go out in the street and bring our bilingual message of solidarity, equality—no to racism, no to violence—so that rather than the public sphere being dominated by right-wing extremists, our message will also resonate in the public sphere. That message—only peace will bring security, in Hebrew and Arabic—is entirely different than the message we are hearing from our leadership.
Some of our groups also face state repression. Standing Together activists in West Jerusalem, both Jewish and Palestinian, were detained by the police. Their crime? They were hanging posters that said, “Jews and Arabs, we will get through this together.” This shows the atmosphere inside Israel right now: it is an atmosphere that doesn’t tolerate dissent, an atmosphere that doesn’t tolerate criticism of official Israeli policy. Not just anti-occupation messages or anti-siege messages or anti-bombardment messages, but even a simple message of equality, a humanistic message—that Jews and Arabs will get through this together—faces repression. This repression is also prevalent in campuses and workplaces. Since the escalation began on October 7th, we’ve been swamped with messages from hundreds of people who are turning to us: Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel, college students who have faced disciplinary procedures on the account that they, for example, changed their Facebook profile to say “Stop the war” in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Suddenly they received an email from their university saying that they’re suspended and are facing disciplinary charges because they supported Hamas. Or Arab workers in mixed workplaces where Jewish and Palestinian workers work together—hospitals, municipalities, elsewhere—who are facing repression and disciplinary procedures for liking an Instagram page that highlighted the sufferings of children, of innocent civilians, in Gaza.
Charles Lenchner: Obviously, a country at war is going to have a lot of issues, especially for an opposition voice. Uri, can you say something about the kind of trouble that the right wing is trying to stir up inside of Israel, the same social forces that animate the settler movement? What are they doing in the mixed towns?
Uri Weltmann: October 7th has been a shock for us in the peace movement inside Israel, a shock on two accounts. First of all the horrific images and stories that we’ve heard from the southern Israeli towns adjacent to the Gaza Strip, where more than 1,300 innocent Israelis were killed or hurt or kidnapped to Gaza. This has hurt Israeli society in a very profound way. Israel is a small country, almost everyone I know has someone in their close vicinity—a family member, a coworker, a friend—who was affected by this terror attack on October 7th. So it has come as a shock in Israeli society. And for us in the peace movement, this shock is further compounded by what we are hearing our government is doing in Gaza Strip, the indiscriminate bombardment of a Palestinian civil population, the collective punishment enforced by cutting off electricity and water, the forced displacement of more than one million Palestinians in the northern Gaza Strip. Rather than seeing these steps as things that contribute to our safety and security, we in the Israeli peace movement, in Standing Together, think these steps are actually painfully undermining the safety and the security of not only Palestinians but also Jewish Israelis. So from this complex situation we, as a movement, are trying to organize within Israeli society, both in deep criticism of the policies of our government but also with deep sympathy for the hurt and the suffering—of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and the occupied territories in general, and in our own society, the Israeli society that has suffered a shock, suffered a grave loss and suffered a terrible hurt at human lives and people being affected.
Charles Lenchner: Kefah, you are living in Jerusalem. Your family is from Shuafat. And I imagine that there are some differences between the experiences that you or your community is having, where you are, that are different than those Sally might be having where she is in Haifa. Can you say anything to illustrate what those differences are?
Kefah Abukhdeir: Here in Jerusalem, we’re not as protected due to the fact that we are residents, we are not citizens. Right now under the current situation, a little closer to home, my family has been targeted and members of our family have been targeted due to our history. Regrettably I have to bring up the fact that we have a cousin who was killed by Jewish extremists back in 2014. And it was a blood libel—our cousin was kidnapped and severely mutilated. His name was Mohammed Abu Khdeir. And the reason they don’t like us, more or less, is because we stood up to the spin. They decided to start a smear campaign against Mohammed and against our family, because they did not want the Jewish extremists to be brought up or to be blamed. It was because we had contacted different outlets from the media and we brought to light what happened to him.
Also they have been going through houses and going through what I will call internal demolitions. And they are tearing apart everything inside of the houses and harassing the people and as my fellow activists mentioned, people are getting phone calls, people are having people show up at their work, to harass them and to go after them. So we also have the added punishment that we can be exiled from Jerusalem if we defy or stand up to the government. There’s also the added violence, as Sally mentioned. There are now settlers who go around to different Palestinian areas and harass people—it’s illegal. But this is not new. This is systematic. Whenever there’s tension, especially with Ben-Gvir and [finance minister Bezalel] Smotrich being in power, it’s been turned up a lot, not just a few notches.
So it’s always been happening. And to think of them as isolated events I also think is wrong. What’s happening in Gaza now, it’s not the first time. So this is part of something systematic, it’s just that it’s getting more pressure and more coverage, and the reason it’s getting more coverage isn’t because the world views us as valuable—they do not. The world does not view us as valuable, and neither does the state. The world is willing to sit aside to give Israel impunity, and Israel does not see us as an asset. So anything that happens to us is excused.
Charles Lenchner: The constant violence against Palestinians is not new. But the success of Hamas against the Israeli communities is a new factor that was introduced on October 7th, and I’m wondering if there’s a way you could describe how that shifts or doesn’t shift perceptions and feelings right now. We have an interesting new circumstance where the scale of the attack on the communities around Gaza was unprecedented. And this has helped fuel a lot of sympathy for Israel or for Israelis, even in places where you might have expected the political positions to be more on the side of Palestinians, and I’m sure that there’s a reaction to that inside the Palestinian community, to this new reality. Can you shed light on how this is being addressed?
Kefah Abukhdeir: Well, the shift is remarkable. As I mentioned, the visceral reaction that came from Israelis, and that came from, let’s say, internationals, is “how dare you.” The thing is that, we’re okay as long as we’re cute, cuddly victims—everybody’s okay with the Palestinian situation. But now that the violent part of the resistance has come to light, or the outcome of the almost twenty-year blockade, it has shifted everything. The other thing that I think nobody ever imagined is—well, this is probably the second time Hamas has transferred the conflict inside of Israel. Of course, everybody remembers the early 2000s with the Second Intifada. So, it’s not necessarily new, it’s just the fact that they made it through the blockade. And they made it over, and how dare they. This is basically the feeling that I’m getting on the street here in Jerusalem—the horror and the underestimation. Because that’s part of the dehumanization, you know: they could never get through what we do, or what we have against them.
Yael Berda: I just want to say something that I think is really important to understand. For Israelis, there’s what happened until October 7th, and then the world after October 7th. I think it’s really, really important to understand how Israeli society is experiencing this moment. This is a moment where, because of the massacre in the south, the hostages, the families that were killed in their homes, the way that it happened—so many of the hyperbolic Hasbara existential threats that were put out for years, as Israel attacked Gaza, are now a reality for many Israelis. And that’s a very important issue to contend with. I think what Kefah said is true, in the sense that there was a deep arrogance and the thought that this could basically never happen, that the walls were impenetrable. But one has to understand that this is not just another round, for anyone—we also see it with the horrific killing of civilians in Gaza right now. I think that we’re at a major, dramatic moment.
So now, in the context of the occupation of the West Bank, in the months leading up to this, this government basically annexed the territories by organizational means—not just de facto like it had been doing all the years before, but actually, legally, there was a transfer of authority from the military to civilian hands, to the government. So, even in the legal sense, there was an annexation of the territories. And all the forces were moved into the West Bank, I believe, for that purpose. Not that I know what goes on [behind closed doors] exactly, but one can just understand, from what’s going on. There was the annexation, there were also threats of a second Nakba on a weekly basis. And so within that environment came this attack.
Now, just so you understand, in Israel just saying what I said right now is considered to be something that absolves Hamas or somehow justifies the massacre. So when you want to try and give a context—not the context of 1948, not the context of ’67, not even the context of the misleading Oslo Accords, none of that. Just giving the context of the last eight or nine months is considered to be an attempt to excuse the massacre of civilians. So we’re in this place where also for Israelis, the chief of police has told activists that if they protest for a ceasefire or for any mention of civilians in Gaza, they will be put on buses and sent to Gaza themselves. That’s where we are.
Charles Lenchner: It’s very difficult to operate right now. And obviously the Jewish Israeli public is full of a combination of shock and horror and war patriotism. Where do you see the cracks? Where is the way that activists like yourself can actually make a change, not only in the future when things are more quiet, but right now?
Yael Berda: First of all, I think that the solidarity work between Palestinians and Israel is very important. Also discrediting those campaigns of revenge and the campaigns of the right wing—basically, they’re advocating for the reoccupation of Gaza, resettling Gaza with settlements and a second Nakba—these are actually what the right wing, the religious Zionism and Jewish power are campaigning for. So standing in front of that and calling for a ceasefire and calling for a hostage deal—what we see is a lot of activists are actually trying to think about the civilians and, in this way, kind of calm the flames. But there is repression against that too. Another aspect of it is also preventing the extreme provocation of violence that the settlers are doing, in the West Bank and also within the ’48 borders. And I think what now is necessary is understanding that there is no military solution. We have to right now, right now, already start talking about political solutions that provide security first—security and equality and justice. I know that for many that does not seem like enough, it does not seem okay. But that’s what we can do right now. And I think that’s the help that we need.
Charles Lenchner: What is it you want to tell our audience who are from around the world, but I think primarily people who want to see peace and justice in Palestine, they’re in the U.S., what do they need to know?
Sally Abed: I want to acknowledge that we woke up to the bloodiest night yet in Gaza. So the first thing that I want to say is just: hold the people of Gaza in your prayers. It’s just heart-wrenching to see that and to feel so hopeless and so helpless to actually do something about it, especially here from Israel as a Palestinian. There are Palestinians in Israel who are going through this experience and the humanitarian loss and the catastrophe that the Israeli public has gone through. Our cause for Palestinian liberation is a very just cause. However, we cannot justify the extreme measures that Hamas has taken to advance this cause. And I think one of the most important things that we need to hold right now as a Palestinian liberation movement and as Palestinians is the right of all of us, as civilians, for life, and for us to live securely. I really want to hold that very, very tight.
And with that, I want to finish and say: listen to us, listen to the people on the ground here in Israel. We are often overlooked. We are seeing amazing cases of radical empathy: of victims, Israeli victims, who have lost dear ones, who have people in captivity right now and who are still calling for a ceasefire, who are still calling for ending the occupation, who are still calling for peace, and we need to join these people and we need to really hold our humanity together as people and isolate our leaderships at the moment. We can talk about the big context of, you know, why the leadership in Gaza and Hamas is the way it is, and we can try and justify it, but the fact is that we need to hold onto our humanity at the moment, while also not letting the hegemony and the monopoly over violence and the monopoly over morality that the world is holding for the Israeli government to compromise our call for liberation.
Uri Weltmann: Since 2005, there have been sixteen major military operations carried out by the Israeli government against the population of Gaza Strip. None of these military actions have brought safety and security to Israelis. All of these military actions only wreaked havoc on the civic population in Gaza, causing the loss of many innocent lives, including children, and each one of them merely planted the seed for the next major military operation. I fear we are now going in the same direction. I fear our government is pushing us into yet another round of violent bloodletting, yet another round of taking a terrible toll of human life in Gaza, and yet another round of undermining the safety and security of us, the people who live in Israel. We need to go in an entirely different direction, we need to press for an Israeli-Palestinian peace, based on UN resolutions. We need to go in the direction of ending the siege and ending the occupation and securing the independence, freedom and justice of both peoples. This is what Standing Together is doing. And we’re doing this not on the west coast or the east coast of [the U.S. or] Europe, we’re doing this inside Israeli society, organizing Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel, which we think is the only way for us as an Israeli peace movement to go about.
Kefah Abukhdeir: People need to know how intimately we’re bound together as Israelis and Palestinians. Israel needs to know that as Palestinians, we see them every day. We look into their eyes and we know them the best. We’ve seen them in uniform. We’ve seen them occupy us. Every day, in the fleeting moments where we’re passing each other, when Israelis send their children to my neighborhood. I see them at the checkpoints. I see them in university. What do we need right now? We need for Palestinians to be protected, to be given agency, equality and equity, and to be able to speak to Israelis and come up and hammer out some solutions.
What I’m asking for is to not let blood be blood. Those of us in both societies are trying not to go crazy with all that we’ve seen. These two failed national projects are now basically Siamese twins, and I’d like for us to come out of this with sanity and with something that all of us can be proud of. And I want everybody to abandon their pride, abandon the pomp and circumstance, and to try to move forward. Because any time that children are being killed and we are speaking of massacres as if it’s some kind of sport, enough is enough. And I think this is where it needs to end.
Yael Berda: I think that we need to be able to see on the ground how we are intertwined. We are intertwined on this territory, from the river to the sea. There are Israelis and Palestinians, and nobody’s going anywhere. And their diasporas aren’t going anywhere. And we have to recognize that, unless we want to live in perpetual war that also creates war elsewhere. And we’re feeding the worst kinds of violence, feeding racism, feeding anti-Semitism, feeding Islamophobia through this. What we need is to be able to see that we share this place, and I know how difficult it is to hear. Yes, this is a settler colony of refugees. No one is going anywhere. Please, advocate, there is no military solution. We need to talk about political solutions. But first of all, we need to stop the killing. We need to stop the killing and bring back the hostages—kids and adults—that we can.
Charles Lenchner: We’re going to move now into the question-and-answer part of the panel. I’m going to direct this question to Sally first, and then Kefah. This is a really hard question; I hope no one gets in trouble for it. But: What is the work necessary so that on the Palestinian side there is an ability to embrace the Jewish Israeli population, not as the target for change or the enemy to be defeated but as a group of people with whom one must share the land at some point in a better way that encompasses justice? It doesn’t sound like something easy for anyone, but the two of you are on the side of helping to figure that out. What does that look like right now?
Sally Abed: Yael said that there’s before October 7th and there’s after, so I’ll tell you the answer before, and then I’ll try to explain the after. Before, I always used to say: here, within Israel, I could go right now to a person from a marginalized group, you know, a Russian-speaking immigrant who lives in the Hadar neighborhood—which is a very, very poor neighborhood here in Haifa—who barely makes rent, or an Ethiopian, a black Jewish person who is enduring as much police brutality, as much a percentage of incarceration rates as for me as a Palestinian here, and I could come and tell him: liberate me. But I always make a point of saying that we are deeply intertwined. This is part of my society. I have a deep sense of responsibility to fight for the majority of the people in Israeli society and for real equality and social justice within Israeli society. And yes, I do that as a Palestinian without compromising—before October 7th.
After October 7th, I’m going to be very honest with you, we’re still in the eye of the storm, and in many ways I am deeply concerned about my ability to bring my Palestinian card to the Israeli public. I really do hope that we won’t lose that privilege of being able to be who we are and to claim our history and our connection to my homeland here. That, I think, is one of the biggest challenges for me. I didn’t answer your question, but I do think that we are in a very, very dark place. We don’t know what will happen yet or how our activism will be shaped after this.
Charles Lenchner: What I’m taking from your answer is that, in a way, the question is inappropriate. Instead of figuring out how we’re going to advance a land for two peoples or some kind of resolution, we’re now in a defensive posture, trying to make sure that the relative privilege that Palestinians in Israel have isn’t taken away, which could lead to all kinds of much worse realities than we have now. And I think we all understand that. Kefah, you are in a different position in this debate. Can you try and answer that same question: What does it mean to imagine Palestinians, in all their diversity, seeing the Jewish Israelis who, you know, who came from elsewhere historically, in large part, not as a problem to be solved, but as people with whom one is going to live someday in some fashion?
Kefah Abukhdeir: That’s a huge bridge to cross, and honestly—it’s made everyone vulnerable. This is probably the switch: that it’s made Israelis vulnerable also. Usually when these things happen, like the Intifada, I saw that Israelis were mad, and again when the state was at war with Hamas, but I never saw them as vulnerable as they are now. And for the first time, you have this vulnerability, you have this anger.
Honestly, I have no answers at this point. What is going to come out of this, it’s going to come to die-hard people who are dedicated and who are going to work with both societies to come up with something that we can work with. But we have to have equal footing, we have to have agency and we have to create spaces of protection where people can talk and can relate. Because right now you’re creating something that doesn’t exist. I don’t know how to do it at this point, to stop seeing Israelis as foreigners. I don’t know. Israel is the first nationalist movement created out of victims. These are people who were rejected and were hated. And they came to Palestine seeking refuge and it turned into a disaster. Our movement was sabotaged by this influx of people, and we’ve never been able to deal with it. We’re victims of victims—I mean, this is a famous quote by Edward Said. How do you go on from there, what scenario exists or something that we can refer to to move on? I don’t know. I want to have the opportunity to explore that, to address it. I don’t know where.
Sally Abed: Connecting social justice issues to peacebuilding and anti-occupation efforts. That’s the answer.
Charles Lenchner: Uri, I’m now going to use you as my stand-in for the opposition force in Israel. The country is consumed by fear, a desire for revenge, anger at the government for how this happened and the problems in governance that it has exposed. And normally in organizing and public campaigning, you start with something that you share with your target audience. And in this instance, the Israeli public writ large is starting with feelings and thoughts that are so divergent from what you want to bring to the table. How do you begin to bridge that gap? What is the language you can use with the Jewish public in Israel that doesn’t result in your forces being more marginalized than they are now?
Uri Weltmann: I’m not sure I agree with your premise that my starting point is different than that of my society. I live in a society that is feeling very deep insecurity. People are feeling insecure in their lives. People are feeling threatened by the national conflict around us, people are feeling insecure in all aspects of life. One of the criticisms leveled by regular Israelis against the government is: the government did nothing for us on October 7th, and they did nothing for us after October 7th. The government wasn’t there to protect us. The army wasn’t there to protect us. We were pushed aside to take care of ourselves, and no help was received. Now, two weeks after the bloody affair, two weeks after the war was declared, tens of thousands of Israelis are displaced from their homes near the Gaza envelope. Many people are outside of their communities, outside of their social protection networks, and people are turning a blaming finger toward the government for not being prepared for this. Not only in the military aspect of things—I’m putting that aside. Not being prepared in the sense that Israel doesn’t have a functioning welfare system currently; the Ministry of Health put out a statement last week calling for social workers and psychologists to go and meet with the survivors of the October 7th attack on a voluntary basis without receiving payment. This shows how big the holes in the Social Security networks of the Israeli state are, how deeply the welfare state has been dismantled over the past thirty years. So many Israelis—not radicals, not political sociologists, but regular people—are turning a blaming finger toward the government. When government ministers went to funerals, they were heckled by families of people who were slain on October 7th, putting the blame on them for our lack of preparedness as a society and how the state responded to the needs of people after October 7th. So I don’t think I differ, or there’s a gap between where I stand and my society stands. I stand where my people stand, in demand of security and in demand of safety and in demand of a radical change in how things are going about.
Charles Lenchner: Yael, before October 7th, the anti-occupation forces were having what looked to me from afar like a successful intervention in Israel’s anti-judicial overhaul protest movement. They were drawing the connection between what the settlers wanted, their grandiose ambitions, as the engine of this judicial overhaul that would impact the rights of all Israelis. But now we can see the movement of troops from Gaza to the West Bank to assist in settler-led pogroms. We can say that the diversion of resources to the settlement projects and away from social needs inside Israel, that there is potentially a turning point possible in how the broader public views the settler community and its essential leadership in the right wing of Israeli politics. What are you seeing that we might not?
Yael Berda: I think there’s two sides of this. On the one hand, there’s an understanding that the right wing has pushed to destroy the possibility for Palestinian unity and for an agreement with Palestinians. One of the ways they did that was by upholding Hamas and giving it various ways to become stronger. One of the things that you see on social media very strongly right now is the critique, you know, of both Netanyahu and people from the Zionist religious movement, saying that Hamas is a gift to the right wing because it prevents a peace agreement. And so people continue to make that connection.
But I have to say on the other hand, that one of the things that you hear is also that they cannot remain complacent in the face of a continuation of the Hamas government in Gaza. Israelis won’t accept it. And this is very complex issue, because we come back to the issue of who’s going to tell the Palestinians how to run themselves. But I think there’s a moment here that is a very difficult one. That one has to be open and not just move forward with ideological constructs and push only for justice as they want it to look like.
There’s something really important to remember here. If you have right-wing theocratic movements that are being upheld by other right-wing theocratic movements, as someone who opposes right-wing theocratic movements, I stand in direct opposition to that: in my society, for sure, but I also have many of my Palestinian allies who stand in front of Hamas. And I understand the difficulty with this, it’s not that I don’t understand the difficulty. And I think it’s very important to listen to Palestinian voices and have more Palestinian voices explaining the different connections—maybe not right now, but I think we’ve got to do what Sally said: listen to people on the ground, listen to what they’re telling you. I mean, we’re also having this conversation and the Gaza medical system just collapsed a few hours ago. God knows what’s going on. What are people saying, what do they want? They want life, they want their children back. They want their children safe. I think they want to have another day. They want to have another night. That’s where we need to be as we think of the future as we think of the possibility. I’m sorry… that wasn’t a program.
Charles Lenchner: This is a hard conversation. It’s hard for me to have this conversation as if we’re dissecting, you know, some other corpse lying on the table when it’s our own flesh and blood.
I observe, everyone does, that the social media aspect of the current phase has resulted in waves of arguments online about who did what and what the scale of things were. You end up with people on both sides feeling vindicated for saying that it didn’t happen or it did happen, which must be horrific for survivors to have to watch. You end up wondering, what do they want? For every person who wants to know to watch those videos on Telegram? As people who care about peace and justice, how do we even deal with this level of debate that seems to be so attractive to so many on social media?
Yael Berda: A lot of the information was very badly handled and sensationalized. Now, you could say that the reality is very, very sensational. I mean, it’s the worst pogrom that Jews have experienced since the Holocaust, it’s true. But then of course, there’s what one does with that, and that’s the issue. Are you going to fight about how babies were killed? Or are you going to move on to say that there is the level of dehumanization, there is that attempt to justify what cannot be justified? I just don’t think it’s that hard. Is it that hard to say that you don’t support such a massacre? Is it that hard to say that you can’t even imagine the number of civilians killed in Gaza? That this number of civilians cannot be “collateral damage.” Is it that difficult? Does one need some sort of moral compass that is so large or so special? Why can’t we just do that? Now, this is very difficult, because so much of this is disinformation and you could see, also with the Al-Ahli hospital explosion, the debates over who did it. And you know, I could only, I only thought about the people that were killed at the moment. Nobody was talking about that.
Kefah Abukhdeir: This is how I worked it out in my head, because I’m watching the same stuff you are online, and sharing, posting. We’re both societies that are used to denial. So there’s Nakba denial and Holocaust denial. I think there was some kind of statistic that out of those trying to rewrite history the largest group are Holocaust deniers. This is why I think this is one of the reasons it gets so vicious between the two groups. I think that’s something you have to add to the list.
I’ve seen Palestinians arguing with the pro-Israelis, and they’re like, Well, you know, you created Hamas, or you’re the ones who helped it. So it’s your fault. And I think we need to get beyond the fault and the blame. We do have very right-wing religious, theocratic people running around, and we need to know why. Whether it be Hamas or whether it be the militants out in Hebron. They exist here. We have two transformed societies inside of Palestine, and I consider Palestine from Tel Aviv to Eilat. So these two transformed societies are now—again, to use the Siamese metaphor, they’re feeding off each other. And I’m going to use a biblical reference: they’re also created from each other. So now if we cannot separate these two nationalisms, where do they go? How do we address it? We have been addressing it in the most macabre and reverted way. How do we move forward? Again, I don’t know.
Sally Abed: On social media, we’re fighting who’s less human, while we completely overlook our humanity. I see that with a lot of even my neighbors here who have shocked me with their being completely okay with over two thousand children dead in Gaza. And they are justifying it almost necessarily, with their moral dissonance, by saying yes, look what they did to us. And I think people just perpetuate that, internalize that, and then they make themselves more angry. The one thing I would just add is that we are all human. And humans can be very ugly sometimes, especially when we’re hurting. But even when we’re hurting and we’re condoning the killing of others, it still has to be justified somehow. Extreme killings of the other has to be justified through extreme victimization itself.
Uri Weltmann: I think that the cause of Palestinian liberation, Palestinian independence and Palestinian statehood is a just cause, but that is not to say that, under the guise of a just cause, evil things, unspeakable and undefendable things can’t happen. And some cannot reconcile the two—the fact that the cause of Palestinian liberation is a just cause and the fact that terrible things have happened on October 7th. Some people who support the right of the state of Israel to exist and are sympathetic toward the demands of Jewish Israelis for safety and security cannot reconcile the fact that our own government, the Israeli government, is committing atrocities at the Gaza Strip. And I think all of us should have a more nuanced approach to this. All of us should need to reconcile sometimes contradictory facts. Terrible crimes were committed, ones that we mustn’t defend, and Jewish Israelis have a right to defense and security and to protect themselves and their families. But this isn’t giving carte blanche for human rights violations and crimes. And I think that denialism of facts, denialism of who bombed Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza or what had happened on October 7th in Jewish towns stems from the fact that people cannot hold the stick in two hands, and we need to progress beyond this one-dimensional perspective.
Yael Berda: Can I just say one thing about this? This is impossible. This is a nightmare. I have a crazy dream every single night that someone is waking me up and telling me that it’s all just a nightmare and that I can wake up now and everything’s fine. And then I wake up and I realize that it’s a nightmare. It’s impossible to fathom. And I think one of the things that people don’t understand for sure in Israel, is that for Palestinians, it has been impossible forever. And in this horrible, horrible massacre of October 7th, because of this unthinkable price, we can begin to make the change. But what I’m saying is, we need a change, from the terrible violence and revenge, from the idea that there’s a military solution to the idea of a political solution that includes liberation and safety and security and equality and respect and holding precious human life.
Charles Lenchner: There have been a number of questions asking what people in other countries, especially in the U.S., could do at this time, or asking what kind of language we can use to talk about the necessity of Palestinian liberation, how that language might be changed.
Here’s a thesis: that we need to transform the conflict from one in which Israeli Jews are one side, and Palestinians are the other, into one in which there are Palestinians and Israeli Jews on the same side, and they are united against the people on the other that are making progress impossible. I hesitate to say that everyone on that second side is an extremist, but if you take Hamas or the settler government currently empowering Israel, you use those words. Do you agree that that is a good way to change the polarization, from Israel versus Palestinians to the people who are working together for a just future for all people between the river and the sea, together against the opponents of including the other people in your national dreams?
Kefah Abukhdeir: Basically, you’re talking about a principled movement instead of a national movement, and that we move more toward statism. I think that’s the only way to go. When these two national movements were created, they were created in times where basically, they wanted to create monoliths, and we’ve all woken up and realized there’s no such thing. Do we—do “we”? I can’t say we. I can say “I.” Do I want the United States involved? Not really, no. The only part of the United States that I would want to involve are the people who established the civil rights movement, people who are real heroes and did care about their societies.
Uri Weltmann: Well, I’m not an expert on U.S. politics. But I see from afar that there are movements in the United States pushing for a shift in its foreign policy vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are grassroots movements that are working to change the automatic support of, for example, U.S. legislators, toward the policies of the current Israeli government. And I think these are very important steps.
For U.S. progressives, for anti-war activists abroad or for people who want peace in the Middle East and justice for the Palestinian people, another way to go about it is to support those movements on the ground here, inside Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, that are working toward peace. Standing Together is one of them.
Sally Abed: What those abroad can do—it’s really just shifting the paradigm. The conversation abroad, especially around Palestinian liberation, is quite academic, you know—talking about decolonization and resistance and liberation in a very theorized way. Not that I’m taking away from its merits and what it has done to the Palestinian liberation movement abroad. However, I do think it’s critical especially now—and we saw it, you know, after October 7th that a lot of these movements have failed to uphold the humanity of the Jewish Israelis that live in this land. It’s more critical than ever to really let that sink in, you know, and really connect our efforts here on the ground in Palestine and in Israel, and what is happening abroad, because I think these theorized ideas of liberation need to have some kind of translation into how we build the political capital within our societies to do those things, to decolonize. And I think that’s what I would do—just reach out to us, and let’s work together and actually create a much better and more constructive conversation.
Yael Berda: So, what I want to say is, the world has been carrying around this dead body called the Oslo process and the two-state solution, and funding it also—funding the kinds of security and walls and technologies and all this stuff that is a permanent failure. We’ve got to think anew, we need third powers. Use your brain, use your heart, talk to people. We need to have political solutions, but they can’t be a deadweight lip service that everyone knows has been detrimental to our societies, creating authoritarianism, creating fundamentalism, and also making life impossible. So I will invite you to look at the website of A Land for All. It’s not necessarily something that is suitable for everyone, but it definitely holds both peoples with respect, with equality, thinking about decolonization, thinking about self-determination for Palestinians and Israelis and sovereignty and also freedom of movement, because this is a very important part, and of course, security.